“Ash had fallen. Perhaps it had fallen the night before or perhaps it was still falling. I can only remember in patches.”
In 1976, three years before she died, Jean Rhys published “Heat,” an autobiographical story about the 1902 eruption of Martinique’s Mount Pelée volcano, which destroyed Saint-Pierre, then the largest city on the island. Some thirty to forty thousand people died; Rhys, who grew up nearby on Dominica, would have been eleven at the time.
Some said the disaster was divine retribution for Saint-Pierre’s moral depravity; not only was the city a haven for loose women, it had a theater and even an opera. But in the immediate aftermath, an air of grave concern fell over the region. “Nobody talked in the street, nobody talked while we ate, or hardly at all,” Rhys writes in “Heat”: “They all thought our volcano was going up.” The night after the eruption, the narrator’s mother points out the black clouds hovering over Martinique. “You will never see anything like this in your life again,” she says. When the narrator’s friends offer her a bottle of ash, she refuses to touch it. Read More